PARIS – A former boss of one of the world’s largest modeling agencies is to be investigated for rape and abuse of an underage girl and other women, French prosecutors said on Monday.
Gerald Marie, former European head of Elite Models, is the target of a complaint from a former BBC journalist and allegations of rape by three ex-models, the Paris prosecutor’s office told AFP.
A specialized child protection unit will investigate the allegations of “rape and sexual assault, as well as rape and sexual assault of a minor,” he added.
The investigation is based on complaints filed by women for alleged assaults between 1980 and 1998.
At the time of the alleged infractions, Elite Models had launched the careers of big names such as Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford and Marie’s ex-wife, supermodel Linda Evangelista.
Former BBC reporter Lisa Brinkworth claimed that in October 1998, while posing as a model during an investigation, Marie sexually assaulted her in a nightclub, pushing her genitals against her abdomen.
She was working undercover on a documentary about allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior towards models – many of whom were minors – at some agencies.
Brinkworth’s complaint is accompanied by allegations of three former models of alleged rape by Marie in Paris when they were adolescents or young women.
The American model Carre Sutton accuses Marie of “countless” rapes in 1986, when she was 17, her American compatriot Jill Dodd of rape in 1980, when she was 19, while the Swedish Ebba Karlsson claims to have been raped in 1990, when she was 20 or 21.
Pascal Narboni, Marie’s lawyer, told AFP that his client “formally disputes these facts” and said he planned to counter the charges in a lawsuit for “slanderous allegations.”
– Too late? –
Under the statute of limitations, which limits the number of years that can elapse between an alleged crime and the start of legal proceedings, prosecution may no longer be possible.
This is one of the questions to be decided by the investigation, which in France does not necessarily lead to a trial.
Brinkworth said she was traumatized by the alleged assault, but was prevented from coming forward by a deal between the BBC and Elite in 2001 following a libel suit.
His legal team hopes that this restriction on his expression can be a basis for bypassing the limitation period.
Brinkworth’s lawyer, Anne-Claire Lejeune, praised the announcement made Monday by Paris prosecutors.
“This survey, I hope, will give others the courage to speak out. It is an encouraging first step and a relief for the victims, ”she said.
Marie left Elite Models, the world’s largest modeling agency, in 2012 and is now the head of the Parisian agency Oui Management.
– ‘No forgotten victims’ –
Brinkworth’s documentary caused a sensation when it was screened in Britain in 1999.
This led to the suspension of Marie and her colleague Xavier Moreau. But they were later reinstated and the agency sued the BBC and other broadcasters of the show for defamation.
The documentary, which filmed Elite’s activities with a hidden camera, alleged underage models being pressured into having sex and using drugs.
The BBC told AFP it would not deny Brinkworth access to its archives.
“We have had extensive discussions with his attorneys to determine how we can make the material available. We have always been clear that the BBC will cooperate fully with any criminal investigation, ”he said.
The step to investigate Marie came months after a sexual harassment investigation was opened against French model agent Jean-Luc Brunel, a former associate of accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
Brunel, founder of Karin Models and MC2 Model Management, is accused in US court documents of rape and recruiting young girls for Epstein, who was found hanged in his New York prison cell last year while awaiting trial for sex trafficking.
In February, Paris prosecutor Rémy Heitz said French authorities would not rule out investigations into crimes that occurred outside the statute of limitations, to ensure there was “no forgotten victims ”.